- The Good: A lonely scientist grapples with his responsibility to the Prime Directive; a princess goes on a quest to save her kingdom
- The Bad: Unclear and unresolved antagonist
- The Literary: Alternating POV chapters that actually add to the storytelling!
Lynesse Fourth Daughter has always loved stories. Her mother, the queen, and her sisters think that she’s in the way, unsuitable for palace politics. When Lynesse hears of a demon terrorizing the land, she travels to the Elder sorcerer’s tower and invokes an ancient pact. But Elder sorcerer Nyr refuses to help Lynesse as he’s sworn to study the planet, not save it.
This is a story that crosses the science fiction and fantasy boundaries, with one protagonist firmly on the scifi side and one firmly on the fantasy side. A technologically advanced anthropological outpost secretly studies several medieval sword-and-sorcery kingdoms. And luckily, we get alternating chapters and perspectives from both, which creates a deep exploration of the Clarke quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Nyr’s gadgets, cryo-sleep, healing capabilities, and emotion compartmentalizer all support Lyn’s belief that Nyr is a magician. Lyn’s cultural practices and language have evolved during the centuries Nyr spent in suspended animation, so it’s a struggle just to communicate. On top of that, Nyr struggles with his duty as a lonely observer anthropologist and whether he should use his knowledge and tools to help a society that needs him. I love the duality of living in the same world but having different ways of being in it. How do you describe a concept when the language itself changes it?
There’s a nice little plot complete with ancient robots, monstrous biological creations, and a quest to save the world from a danger even Nyr doesn’t understand. There’s plenty of mental and physical damage to go around, which keeps the tension and stakes high. I’ve had Tchaikovsky on my to-read list for awhile, and if this hadn’t been nominated for a Hugo award I wouldn’t have read him so soon. I love this one! Highly recommended for anyone interested in stories and storytelling!